Background Ventilator-associated pneumonia, common in critically ill patients, is associated with microaspiration of oropharyngeal secretions and may be related to suctioning and airway management practices.

Objectives To describe institutional policies and procedures related to closed-system suctioning and airway management of intubated patients, and to compare practices of registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

Methods A descriptive, comparative, multisite study of facilities that use closed-system suctioning devices on most intubated adults was conducted. Nurses and respiratory therapists who worked at the sites completed surveys related to their practices.

Results A total of 1665 nurses and respiratory therapists at 27 sites throughout the United States responded. The typical respondent had at least 6 years’ experience with patients receiving mechanical ventilation (61%) and a baccalaureate degree or higher (54%). Most sites had policies for management of endotracheal tube cuffs (93%), hyperoxygenation (89%) and use of gloves (70%) with closed-system suctioning, and instillation of isotonic sodium chloride solution for thick secretions (74%). Only 48% of policies addressed oral care and 37% addressed oral suctioning. Nurses did more oral suctioning and oral care than respiratory therapists did, and respiratory therapists instilled sodium chloride solution more and rinsed the suctioning device more often than nurses did.

Conclusions Policies vary widely and do not always reflect current research. Consistent performance of practices such as wearing gloves for airway management and maintaining endotracheal cuff pressures must be evaluated. Collaborative, research-based policies and procedures must be developed and implemented to ensure best practices for intubated patients.

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